Friday, December 13, 2019


MAKING THE COMMON UNCOMMON


The "common" is anything we take fro granted, doesn't grab out attention, or not note worthy. As individuals, we don't stop--we just keep walking. As photographers, we don't consider the subject worth a click. We miss so much in life, and in photography, when we don't stop and smell the roses.

The key to understanding this concept is not to look at the final image and say, "Oh, I can do that." I'll share a story to illustrate what I mean. 

I made a slide presentation to a camera club a few years ago. I showed an image that is very common in any body of water--a duck in the water. A gentleman in the audience raised his hand, and said, "You know, I can do that in Photoshop." I replied with, "Well, here's the deal. If you had been with me when I saw that duck in the water, you would have shrugged your shoulders and kept walking. To the naked eye, it really didn't look like much."

So, here's the deal. If we just see with our eyes, we will miss a lot of great photo opportu- nities. We need to see with our imaginations to see through and beyond the common. This is difficult for a lot of people because in involves seeing what's not there.

In order to really appreciate some of the following images, you need to see them in the context of art, not pictures.  

With this introduction, let me start with that duck in the water. I underexposed the scene
by a -2 stops in order to enhance the contrast and "freeze" the motion in the ripples.
That's 200% less light than the light meter thought I needed. Think about it. 




What comes to mind when you think of Taco Bell? Burritos, for sure, but a photo opportunity? Probably not.


I saw these light fixtures on the side of a Taco Bell in Russellville, Arkansas. 



I took a hike in the mountains north of Steamboat Springs, Colorado a few years ago, expecting to see beautiful pine trees, creeks, and fowl. Instead, I saw an entire grouping of dying trees. That's what my eyes saw. My mind saw art-- layers of color and texture, with side lighting that enhanced colors, light and shadows.




I will let you look at this next image for a few seconds 

  

Well? What did you see? I was having breakfast with a friend on the deck of a quaint cafe in Hygiene, Colorado. While I waited for my order, I looked down at my coffee cup, as I prepared for a nice hot cup of java. When I looked down, I saw these bubbles in my cup. Camera time! Click. For this image, I applied a software application to give it an artsy feel to the background.



I would bet that 98% of us consider a freeway construction site as ugly. If not ugly, certainly not pretty, and certainly not worth a photograph--unless you're documenting urban growth for the local Chamber or newspaper. This is what they look like, right?


My eyes saw this too. However, i could imagine what this might look like very early in the morning, with early morning colors, silhouettes, shapes, people, and design. I got there one morning, before the workers arrived, got my composition, set my exposure, then patiently waited for something to happen. I had an FLD filter on to enhance the sunrise colors. When life caught up with my imagination, click! 




I love it when the seasons cross paths. Such was the case for this next image. It was late autumn when we got an early snowfall. I loved the simplicity of this scene, and the contrast between snow and fall colors. 





I was with a student during a 1-on-1 lesson. We came across an ugly,filmy, stained window and we both looked at it at the same time. She beat me to the punch, when she said, "See? See that. That's the kinda thing I like, but don't know what do do." The window was on a painter's work shed. He took old tractors, brought them back to life, and painted them in his shed. He had a sink where he washed his paint brushes. Out of habit, he would shake his paint brushes near the window as he was cleaning them. Throughout the years, paint from his brushes would sprinkle blotches and streaks of color that stuck to the inside of the window. This is how the outside of that old window looked when we saw it. Pretty ugly, huh? 

   

I walked her through the process I was going to take to create something out of that common old window. I pointed to the bottom third of the window in the middle, explaining,
"See those shapes of color at the bottom? We are going to zoom in on just that part and severely underexpose it." We took turns at photographing that portion of the window. When we were done, her image looked very close to mine. She was surprised and amazed.

If you look closely, they are the same shapes as on the window. We both underexposed the window by -2 stops; not 1/2 a stop, but two complete stops.    




Here is my final example of making the common uncommon. In my neighborhood, at the foothills of Hot Springs Mountain, there are these leftovers of years gone by. The old stone steps are the remains of what I can only assume led to a big 1930's or 1940's home on the hill. You can see them from Ramble Street. However, to most passersby, they are hard to see because they are camouflaged against the hillside topography. 

For weeks, I kept looking at them as I too drove by them, all the time thinking "I see something." Then, one day it hit me as to what I wanted to do with them. I had my artistic hypothesis in mind. 

I went there one evening shortly after sunset, with my large flashlight in hand. I "painted" the steps and even the unlit lamp inside the old street light. Here is the final result. I gave the image the title of "Rambling Steps." 




Next time you see something common, don't walk by or drive by it. Go back and take a second look. Look at it from different mental and visual perspectives. You know what it is, but what could it be, if.......? Have fun with it. 
     



   
   








  

Monday, November 18, 2019

STREET PHOTOGRAPHY

Let's start by sharing my definition of "street photography." Although it can be downtown, it doesn't have to be. Anything I see from along the streets is part of my street photography-- people, the culture, architecture, history, retail window fronts, etc. I treat it like a documentary on street photography.

That said, some of the examples I will share go beyond documenting what I see. I like to explore with different effects, both in-camera and with photo editing software.

So, let's begin with this downtown scene of a restaurant/lounge in downtown Hot Springs, Arkansas called The Avenue. When people notice photographers with a camera, they tend to look at the photographer, but I wanted the scene to look as natural as possible--folks just enjoying a drink. So, I got the shot from across the street with my telephoto lens. 



I saw this couple in fun conversation in front of The Yellow Deli in downtown Boulder, Colorado. I shot it as an in-camera double exposure, then added a photo editing application (Poster Edges) to give it a painterly effect.I look for unique, interesting elements in my compositions. In this scenario: the upside-down basket as a lamp shade, the old-style curtains, the guy's hat, and a hint of a bike. Bicycles are ubiquitous in Boulder.



While visiting Switzerland, I saw this interesting restaurant setting with a giant blue cow hovering over the diners eating at what looks to be a cheese/fondue kind of specialty cafe.
The cow and the cheese made for a somewhat comical and surreal combination.


I was in the middle of a 3-day workshop when I saw this man walking toward me. He instantly made an impression on me. We started talking and it became apparent that he was homeless. Donald is his name. I asked him if I could take his picture. It cost me $6.00, but it was definitely worth it. Donald had some great and interesting features. You can see life's wear and tear, ups and downs, and tribulations on his face. I converted the image to sepia tone to match the subject matter. 

As I was getting his picture, he told me he was famous--he had his picture on Facebook.



Here is yet another image from historic and picturesque Hot Springs, Arkansas. Downtown is known for Bathhouse Row. There are eight beautiful historic bath houses that line the east side of Central Avenue. The Quapaw Bath House is just one of the ornate bath houses that make downtown Hot Springs so unique and fun to visit.  



I saw this man in silver clothing walking briskly along a downtown Denver, Colorado street.
I quickly parked my car, fed the meter, and literally ran after him. I was curious. When I caught up with him I introduced myself, we chatted, and he let me take several photos of him. He said he was a street performer and that his name was JAMBOT. We then walked to 16th street, where he made most of his money. I got several shots of him. This is one of my favorites-- him leaning forward several degrees then freezing for several seconds as people gawked in amazement, including me! 

   

I enjoy photographing plein air artists as they paint their street scenes. I photographed this local artist, Paul, in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Since the scene depicted a "then & now" theme, I converted the photo to black & white, except for Paul's painting and his make-shift palette--two paper plates.




So, go downtown or visit nearby towns and cities and just walk around with your camera. Sometimes the most common of subjects can become topics of and for discussion. Enjoy your walk. Send me some examples of your street photography. 

If you want to raise the bar on your photography and live in the Hot Springs/Little Rock area, holler at me if you'd like a 1-on-1 or small group field lesson. I will also be in the Denver/ Boulder area next May.  

Friday, October 25, 2019

A SCENE FROM A NOVEL


A true sign of a great novel is when I can see the scene in my head as the author describes it in vivid detail, using powerful mind-engaging adjectives. Depending on the scene, I can see the people, the calming feel of the place, or even get in the main character's head.

There are some scenes I like to photograph simply because they could be a scene out of a novel, an illustration of what the author is trying to convey. Those images elicit wonderment, curiosity, thoughts, and even 
feelings. 

Here are a few examples. What do you "read" into them? What was the author trying to convey?



I was with one of my students on a 1-on-1 photo lesson. She had recommended this once beautiful but now abandoned house. She had got permission for us to go inside. As we walked throughout the house getting some really cool photos, we went upstairs to one of the bedrooms. There, on the floor were tons of Christmas cards scattered randomly in the midst of historic chaos. The novel questions for me are, "Who lived here? What was their lifestyle? Why did she keep all these Christmas cards all those years, who were they from, and why did she leave them behind?" 


In order to add to my deep questions and wonderment, I converted most of the image to black and white, except for just a few Christmas cards. It's a combination of the present and the past. 


This next scene reminded me of something out of a downtown Chicago street corner. No, it wasn't Chicago. This Italian restaurant is in Hot Springs, Arkansas. One of the many reasons I love the art of photography is that whatever we create, it is out of context for the viewers--they weren't there when I "took" that photo. I remind myself of that when I'm out in the field. 

For this photo, the questions are, "Where is this place? Did he just come out of that
restaurant?" For me, that beautiful old street light is the exclamation mark in the scene.     




Can't you just get into her head? She's totally alone, doing something because she enjoys it  It looks cool and wet with that thick fog. She has her jacket on, but looks content, relaxed, happy. The simple things in life are the slow things in life. Take your time. Breathe it in.

  


Who is she? Why is she at the train station alone? Why is she dressed like that? Where is she going? What's her story?

  


She's at a botanic gardens, but she's not walking around admiring the beautiful flowers, plants, and fountains. Instead, she seems to be peacefully and comfortably in her own head. Is she reading a novel and taking notes? Is she jotting down her thoughts in her journal before they float away in the gardens to join the fluttering butterflies?   




Ahhh. How do you spell h-e-a-v-e-n? Can you imagine yourself there, leaving behind the stressful sounds of traffic, the unnecessary inefficiencies at the office, or maybe what you hope is temporary life chaos? Maybe, just maybe, some quiet meditation by the lake will clear your head enough to explain the unexplainable and accept the unacceptable.




   

Thursday, September 26, 2019

A PICTURE PAINTS A THOUSAND WORDS


Before I share with you the photographic notion behind this phrase, do you know where the phrase originated? Its origin comes from the world of journalism. The original phrase was actually, "A picture is worth a thousand words." Find out more here.

So, now back to my tip of the month. When it comes to photo images, maybe it's not a thousand words we're talking about, but certainly several words that are part of a message, a translation, a feeling, a question, or maybe just a thought. We all have photos in our collection with that inherent quality. 

In this month's tip, I will share some images that have resonated with people. Look at them and ask, "What do I see? What do I feel?" What goes through your mind? What questions do they beg? The messages to these questions are different for all of us. They are our messages. What are your messages?


Let's start with this image. It was midday when I saw this homeless man. He was just quietly sitting, like contemplating life. I asked him if he' mind if I took his picture; that I found him very interesting. He said, "I didn't even shave this morning." Before I got this shot, I asked him, "What do you think of when you think of happy moments?" He quietly and softly replied, "My daughter. I don't get to see her much anymore." 

                                                             "Nowhere Man"

The harsh midday lighting mimicked his harsh life conditions.


It was early morning. A thick fog was still hovering over the landscape as I saw this scenario along a quiet hardly traveled county road. What do you see? What do you feel?



I'll let you stare at this next image first before I tell you the story behind the image.



This novel-like man was reading his paper and looking at paperwork as he sipped his coffee inside a Starbucks. True story. I photographed him through the store window. As I always do, I went inside and asked him if I could "take his picture."  


I got up extremely early this day to see what the Kings River in northern Arkansas might look like at that time, right before sunrise. The sun was just breaking the horizon when I created this image. What are your messages?





I thought I'd let you see this one first without an introduction. What do you see, feel,
hear, or think about when you see this woman sitting on her plastic bucket as she enjoys her early-morning fishing? Sometimes, the quieter, slower parts of life are the most enjoyable.



As I saw this early morning sunrise over the Ozarks in Arkansas, a feeling of tranquility enveloped me. Photography allows me to capture, to freeze moments in life; moments I may never see or feel again.



Some images, like this last example, just beg questions? What questions does it beg from you? How many words does it paint?




Sometimes, I know exactly why I point my camera at any given situation. However, at times my subconscious leads my mind, which leads me to point my camera at certain scenarios, places, or people. My conscious mind simply follows that lead, and it's not until after I look at my image that the message appears. For the image above, the questions for me are: Who is she? Why is she there alone? Where is she going? Where is she coming from? Why is she dressed like that? What are your questions?  


So, go out there and photograph people, places, cityscapes, landscapes, flora .....and follow your inner guide. Life is full of messages--capture them! 


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Wednesday, August 21, 2019

FLORALS

The reason I call myself a life photographer is because, although I too am attracted to landscapes and scenics as so many of us are, I can find art in almost any subject around me. One of those many subjects is florals, specifically flowers. 

I am not a botanist, so I am not as familiar with the many species of flowers around us. However, I don't need to be because when I'm out and about, my goal is not to take pretty pictures of pretty flowers. I look for shapes, colors, lines, and shadows. My imagination takes over from there and thinks of the unseen-- drama, moods, impressionism, mystery. beauty, etc.

Once I have something in my mind, then, and not only until then, do I start thinking about f/stops, shutter speeds, exposure, exposure modes, etc. In other words, I work backward.
I start with the end in mind. Of course, viewers don't know that. They only see the end result. So, let me show you some my end results. 

Let's start with this image, on which I received many comments and questions. I liked the shapes and colors of this midday arrangement, but the background was absolutely horrible. I also wanted to enhance the shapes and colors. So, to eliminate the ugly background and enhance the colors, I used a large black non-reflective flannel material as a backdrop then did an in-camera double exposure to create this. In my new book, RIGHT BRAIN PHOTOGRAPHY, I go into step-by-step detail on how I create my double exposures in camera. 




Don't be afraid to shoot toward the sun, even though most folks advise against it.
Get behind back lit subjects for unique perspectives. And, to add drama, increase your exposure to bring out those hidden details in the shadows--don't hesitate to disregard your histogram--it doesn't know what you want; it only knows what it thinks you need. I overexposed this scene by a +2 2/3!! That's 266% more light than my built-in light meter thought I needed. 

  


I liked these flowers, but the background was too busy, drawing attention away from the
"headliners." What to do? I gently slid my 32" diffuser behind the flowers in the foreground, slightly touching the flowers in the background to subdue their presence. It worked!




When photographing flowers in water, get down as low as you can in order to pick up their reflections in the water. It's not a comfortable position to be in, but the results are worth it. 




For this artistic rendition I used a combination of diffuser as a backdrop and an in-camera
double exposure. The result is a soft, artistic impressionistic effect.




The thought of white-on-white occurred to me when I saw this beautiful white bloom. So, a white diffuser behind a white flower seemed like the right thing to do. I don't like to overdo it when it comes to sharpening flowers--it counteracts the soft dream-like feel. 




For this last example, I want to show what a huge difference a diffuser makes when photographing flora. They help create the feel of in-studio photography, even though the actual photographs were done in the middle of the day with flowers in their natural environments..

Here is that studio look.



Now, if you don't think a diffuser makes a big difference, notice how this same scene looks like in its natural form. Big difference, right?




Have fun photographing flora. Go against common rules and no-no's. Don't think of them as simply "flowers." Treat them as elegant artistic subjects, and look, not for the labels for which they're known, but for the shapes, colors, forms, and moods they offer--go beyond the obvious.

Loosen up and enjoy creating art from nature! 
  

Monday, July 1, 2019

WATER

I enjoy photographing water--waterfalls, lakes, rivers, creeks, reflections, large and small bodies of water. I like to vary the times of day--early morning, broad daylight, late afternoon, or at twilight--that magic 10-minute window we have between sunset and nighttime.  

Water can be the main center of interest or play a significant role in the scene's composition. Its qualities can translate mystery, tranquility, drama, or fun adventures.

With that introduction, let me share the first piece from my collection. This is a relatively small lake in Colorado, near the Indian Peaks Wilderness northwest of Boulder. It's called Red Rock Lake. Shot early morning around 8:30, I underexposed the scene to retain the easy, tranquil feeling I was sensing that morning. I chose to include the sun only as a reflection in the lake, giving the scene a mysterious and mystical feel.




I stopped at Taylor Park Reservoir during one of my many drives between Buena Vista and Crested Butte, Colorado. The beautiful day attracted lots of boating enthusiasts. As I looked out at the lake, I noticed the shapes, forms, and designs the boats created on the water as they whizzed by. It intrigued me. For this shot, I added lots of water in order to emphasize the shapes created in the water by all the boats in the area.



The Great Salt Lake just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah is the largest salt water lake in the western hemisphere.It is 1,700 square miles and 75 miles long! I went to check things out one year, but I wanted to see what it gave me late in the evening. I liked what it gave me.   
I covered my view finder with two-thirds lake in order to emphasize its tremendous size.  



I just had to photograph this couple floating the Buffalo River in Arkansas. Their reflections, coupled with the reflections of the surrounding giant bluffs, really added interest and a sense of fun to this image.There are times when extremely slow shutter speeds (like 1 to 1/5 of a second) add to the photograph. This is not one of those times. I wanted to "freeze" the reflections and replicate the surroundings in the river as much as possible. A shutter speed of 1/250 did the trick. 



The Grand Tetons in Wyoming always make for great photographs. When I can find a reflection of them, they give me even more to enjoy. I found such a reflection in this small but perfectly located lake. This just goes to show that we can get good photos in the middle of the day. 



In nearby Colorado, I love to photograph one of the most beautiful but lesser-known lakes in this country--Hanging Lake. It is worth the extremely steep one-mile hike.



And, of course, waterfalls give us some dramatic views and sounds. My favorite waterfall in Colorado is Fish Creek Falls, just outside Steamboat Springs. May and June are the best times of the year, when snowmelt creates powerful waterfalls. You can feel the power underneath you, if you're close enough.



Blue Spring Heritage Center, near Eureka Springs, Arkansas is an interesting spot to visit. The best perspective is only a few yards away--a wide angle lens is definitely a must. 




Lake Luzern cuts through the city of Luzern, Switzerland. I love cities with bodies of water running through them. They add so much character. In addition, they make for great photos!
I prefer to shoot such scenes at twilight, to add color to the sky.



Every state has at least one body of water. Go find the lakes, creeks, rivers, or waterfalls in your state and have fun with them. Try different exposures, different times of day, different shutter speeds, and perspectives. And remember: there's no such thing as the "correct" exposure; there's only the right exposure, and you determine what that is for you! Enjoy.




  


    
  




Monday, June 10, 2019


TREES

Well, it's not really trees I want to talk about this month, but what trees can give us-- shapes,
lines, shadows, and even mood. The subjects, trees in this case, are secondary to what I want to create.

I don't photograph trees per se. Trees, in and of themselves, don't give me anything really
interesting. However, when I photograph them when light is the focus or at different times of  the day or year, or from different perspectives other than eye level, then the magic begins. Sometimes it's what I do with my camera or lenses that creates the magic. 

Here's a thought: Make my tip of the month an assignment for yourself. Give it your spin.



One of the most creative approaches I like to do with trees is create in-camera double exposures. In my book, RIGHT BRAIN PHOTOGRAPHY, I provide step-by-step instructions on how I do this. Basically, my first shot is slightly out of focus. I then superimpose my second shot, which is in sharp focus. When the two blend in-camera, it looks like this.

I would not suggest combining more than two images--it looks too "muddy" beyond two. 



Unique perspectives also give trees a unique look and appeal. Most people, when they do something like this, look straight up, from eye level. I placed my camera on my tripod near the tree on the left, only eighteen inches from the ground, and aimed straight up. All I could do was estimate the angle I needed. Based on my test shot from eye level, I knew I had to over-expose the image by + 2 2/3 stops. I also made sure my focusing point was about 1/3 from the bottom of my viewfinder, in order to get as much depth of field as possible. 



For these trees in the woods surrounded by an early snowfall, I simply moved my camera
downward slightly to create a painterly effect. This is more art than science, so it might take two or three tries to get what I want. I don't want to make my camera movement too fast or too slow. Too fast of a movement just gives me a blur; too slow of a movement makes it look like a mistake.  



I was walking along a dry river bed in Forth Worth, Texas looking for a good early sunrise shot of the Fort Worth skyline. Whenever I go on any photo walk or hike, I like to look behind me occasionally, to make sure I'm not missing out on anything. On this particular early morning, I couldn't see anything in front of me that caught my eye so I turned around and saw this scenario developing! Knowing the impermanence of the sun's location, I had to work fast. The colors in the eastern horizon, behind these interesting tree shapes, led me to reach quickly for my FLD filter, which gave this sunrise a unique effect. Get yourself an FLD filter and experiment with both sunrises and sunsets--they produce amazing results!

I first started experimenting with FLD filters during film days. They were designed to use when shooting under Florescent Lighting with Daylight film. Try it.   



Sometimes color itself can command the stage, as these dogwoods in spring in the Ozarks demonstrate. This scenario screamed color and shapes. 



You can't go wrong with simple autumn tree reflections in a body of water, as in this scene,
also in the Arkansas Ozarks. 



Have you ever tried photographing during the day with your white balance set on Florescent? 
Try it someday--you might surprise yourself. 



Trees in winter is also a favorite. I found these trees in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado during one of my winter workshops. There wasn't much color in the scene so I converted the original to a B&W image to emphasize white snow on dark bark.



Trees. They're all around us. We don't have excuses not to photograph them. Think perspective, reflections, the four seasons, on-camera filtration, double exposures, camera movement, out-of-the box white balance, black & white images, and other approaches I didn't mention. 

Our eyes are limited. Our imaginations are endless. I don't see with my eyes; I see with my imagination.